Are you stepping into a leadership position in your community? Then take a cue from Jeff Franco. He heads a nonprofit called City Year in Washington, which enrolls 17- to 24-year-olds to perform a year as full-time, volunteer mentors in a city secondary school. Franco has increased the number of young people who participate by 400 percent since 2008.
If you are just starting a volunteer group, Franco advises, you’ll need “dedication, resilience and grit.” Even hosting one volunteer event can be like herding cats. But Franco believes that if you get organized, you’ll succeed. He offers these tips to help you get started:
1. Learn others’ desires, teach your vision.
To attract people who are willing to invest their time and talent, a leader needs to know what inspires others to serve. Do you understand what changes local people want to see in their world? If you do, you need to inspire them to be part of that change, Franco said.
“Once we know their expectations, we must live up to them,” Franco said. “People are inspired to act when there’s a clear vision and they believe you have a plan of action.”
Specifics: Invite a notable figure to kick off a volunteering event. Promote your organization or your next event with photos of that person working side by side with members of your community. Encourage groups from the community or employees from local businesses to join as teams.
Hold an opening program (45 minutes is long enough) at which you honor those present and explain your organization and that day’s mission. Volunteers work harder when they understand the cause and their value to it.
2. Make it social.
It shouldn’t be all work. Franco emphasizes the fun of working alongside peers. He tries to find ways to build in activities to promote socializing.
Specifics: Hold an event on a holiday or meaningful anniversary for your community. Invite special guests. Make sure your volunteers feel that they are all part of a community happening. Franco’s group holds a day of service on the birthday of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. One year, President Obama and his family rolled up their sleeves and helped to beautify a school. Other years, the mayor of Washington and the U.S. secretary of education participated.
Rubbing elbows with important people and meeting new friends works. Volunteers also want to accomplish something. Plan discrete projects that can be completed by small teams in a few hours. Volunteers are happier if you plan tasks for them. They can show up, get to work and finish something. “That’s possibly an ‘American thing,’ Franco said, because we’re always scheduling.”
3. Do it better next time.
After volunteers complete their service, whether it lasts for a year or two hours, find out what they liked and what they didn’t like. Then improve upon the volunteer experience. Making that effort will help volunteers feel a connection to the work they do for you and boost the chances they will volunteer in the future.
Specifics: Register people who show up and stay in touch with them. Ask them to bring their friends next time. Ask them to fill out a survey as they leave. Use it!
Serving a community ennobles
Franco calls volunteers “invaluable resources” who can help your organization make a bigger impact. And he emphasizes to volunteers the noble aspect of their work by quoting King: “Everybody can be great … because everybody can serve.”
Franco contributes to the thriving Young African Leaders Initiative, made up of more than 140,000 young Africans who are developing as leaders, entrepreneurs and civic activists.